[Callers] The Beginners' Lesson Tips?

Greg McKenzie grekenzie at gmail.com
Wed Oct 5 09:57:48 PDT 2011

On Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 6:13 AM, Martha Edwards <meedwards at westendweb.com>wrote:

> So I guess it's good that I always forget when this caller is calling to be
> sure I don't ask newcomers to dance during the early part of the evening...
> M
> E

Correct!  It is often necessary for responsible dancers to ignore the
implicit or explicit messages a caller puts out.  Unfortunately, there are a
number of tactics, ploys, or tricks used by callers attempting to manipulate
the dancers into doing the "right thing."  Obviously all of these are based
on the assumption that dancers are not inclined to do the "right thing" and
this is the frame being activated by the ploy being used.  Let's call this
frame the "selfish dancer" frame.

If the "selfish dancer" frame is active in the caller's brain it will be
broadcast throughout the room.  Any trick or ploy used to manipulate
"selfish dancers" into doing the "right thing" will backfire because the
"selfish dancer" frame will persist in the dancer's brains long after the
trick has faded from memory.

Programming lots of neighbor interaction is not a tactic I would worry too
much about because that tactic has some positive features and there are
other common tactics used by callers that are much more problematic.
Consider, for example, the caller who teaches the first dance of the evening
to newcomers during an orientation and who then *leaves the orientation set
intact* and urges other dancers to form new lines to begin the evening.
This tactic makes it impossible for regulars *who arrive on time* to partner
with first-timers *or to even participate with them as neighbors.*

Another example of a problematic gambit is the tactic of calling a mixer
without announcing it in advance.  After a regular dancer has put out the
effort to identify a first-timer and partner with them, a mixer will negate
all of that effort.  Mixers are often used to force integration of the dance
hall.  In fact they have a negative effect because their use is often based
upon the "selfish dancer" frame which can be activated when mixers are
“sprung” on the dancers.

The better strategy is to understand that integration of newcomers is the
best way to insure shorter walk-throughs, more dancing, less "teaching from
the mike" and more fun for everyone.  Understanding this, the caller can
confidently assume the full support of all of the dancers in the effort to
integrate the hall.  The "trick" is to make sure that regulars are confident
and successful when they do partner with newcomers and that the newcomers
are relaxed and confident that they have all of the skills needed to partner
with the regulars.

Excellent callers have a very high regard for the motivations and dance
skills of all of the dancers.  They assume that all dancers are acting in
goodwill, are polite and generous, and that all of them are capable of
dancing well.  An excellent contra dance caller also assumes that all of the
regulars are very capable of leading newcomers through the figures (and,
yes, that they are even capable of showing new dancers how to do the buzz
step swing).  Let's call this the "wonderful dance community" frame.

Integrating the hall effectively requires that the caller build and activate
the "wonderful dance community" frame in their own brain.  Activating that
frame will project the caller’s confidence in the community and will tend to
inspire the regular dancers to rise to the caller's expectations.

One consequence of the "wonderful dance community" frame is that--when there
is any confusion, poor dancing, or ungracious behavior in the hall--the
caller must take full, personal responsibility for it.  When anything
negative happens the only way to maintain the "wonderful dance community"
frame is for the caller to take an apologetic tone, either implicitly or
with an explicit apology.  Any misbehavior must be attributed to the
caller's own failure and a public apology is in order to defend the
"wonderful dance community" frame.

Integrating the dance hall is a big deal at open public contra dances.  It
is how the magic of "sweeping in" newcomers is accomplished.  Again, this is
a very different process from calling for other kinds of events, such as
camps or festivals, where the experience level of the hall is much less

- Greg McKenzie

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